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Conventional, to the Last

The Intersection
By Chris Mooney
Aug 31, 2006 3:55 PMNov 5, 2019 10:13 AM


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I first heard of the Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam several years ago when he wrote a wrongheaded attack on the then-new phenomenon known as "blogging." Bloggers quickly eviscerated him; among other things, Beam had failed to comprehend one of their April Fool's jokes. As Catherine Seipp later summarized in the American Journalism Review:

Following a link on libertarian blogger Virginia Postrel's site (Dynamist.com), Beam found what he thought was a good example of "bizarre" blogging in Norwegian blogger Bjørn Staerk's (www.bearstrong.net) "left-wing raving." Unfortunately, free-marketeer Staerk's left-wing raving that day was a pretty obvious (at least to bloggers) April Fools' joke, complete with a link to a North Korean press agency. As Postrel explained somewhat wearily on her own blog later, "Hint to Alex: When a well-known libertarian links to a site, noting rather strongly that the date is April 1, and when that site appears to be Stalinist, something just might be up."

In this encounter, now four years old or so, Beam behaved like an utterly conventional old-school journalist, unable to comprehend or appreciate new currents like blogging. Well, now he's doing it again--defending the outmoded canons of "let's hear both sides" reporting that I and many others have denounced when applied to reporting on scientific topics where no substantial controversy exists. As Beam writes:

I sat in a roomful of journalists 10 years ago while Stanford climatologist Stephen Schneider lectured us on a big problem in our profession: soliciting opposing points of view. In the debate over climate change, Schneider said, there simply was no legitimate opposing view to the scientific consensus that man - made carbon emissions drive global warming. To suggest or report otherwise, he said, was irresponsible. Indeed. I attended a week's worth of lectures on global warming at the Chautauqua Institution last month. Al Gore delivered the kickoff lecture, and, 10 years later, he reiterated Schneider's directive. There is no science on the other side, Gore inveighed, more than once. Again, the same message: If you hear tales of doubt, ignore them. They are simply untrue. I ask you: Are these convincing arguments? And directed at journalists, who are natural questioners and skeptics, of all people? What happens when you are told not to eat the apple, not to read that book, not to date that girl? Your interest is piqued, of course. What am I not supposed to know?

Beam's thinking here is so unnuanced I don't even even feel a need to debunk it. But feel free to go to town on Mr. Conventional Journalism in the comments....

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